Governments in the region should initiate legislation banning shisha smoking in public, which will help prevent and reduce the use of shisha, a top GCC health official said yesterday.
Speaking at the second International Conference on Waterpipe Smoking Research organised by Hamad Medical Corporation, Prof Tawfik A M Khoja, director-general, Executive Board, Health Ministers’ Council for the GCC, said: “Shisha smoking is associated with many of the same serious life-threatening conditions as cigarette smoking, leading to lung cancer, respiratory illness and cardiovascular diseases.
“There should be policies banning the use of shisha in public places, which may help prevent and reduce shisha smoking. Users tend to smoke with friends in cafes and other public places, which is also a cause of second-hand smoking.”
Stressing that efforts should also be made for clean indoor air legislation, he said: “More research must be conducted on shisha smoking among the youth and young adults. Similarly, waterpipe must be included in comprehensive tobacco control efforts.”
Prof Khoja said there were several reasons for the growing popularity of shisha smoking. “The introduction of a flavoured tobacco mix, the mushrooming of shisha establishments, aggressive marketing and media hype are the major reasons. In addition, there is also the myth that shisha smoking is not as harmful as cigarette smoking.”
The official pointed out that the use of shisha by popular characters in television dramas and serials is another reason for its widespread use. “The extensive use of shisha in television programmes such as dramas and serials has a great impact among youngsters. Such indirect promotion of shisha is very common, especially in the month of Ramadan,” he added.
He also elaborated that there were many myths associated with shisha use. “People believe that smoking through water filters all harmful elements such as nicotine. But it is not true as shisha contains tar and nicotine. Another myth is that smoking shisha is healthier than smoking cigarettes but, in effect, shisha smoking is as dangerous as cigarette smoking.”
Prof Khoja also pointed to some flaws in the GCC regarding the regulation of shisha smoking. “Shortage of reliable statistics of cigarette smoking as well as shisha smoking according to age categories at the national level is one problem the GCC countries are facing. There is also no ban on tobacco use in dramas and other television programmes,” he added.
However, he said certain governments in the region have started adopting several measures to prevent shisha smoking and smoking in general. Bahrain has already accepted a law regarding a complete ban on all forms of advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco in dramas.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia is in the process of implementing a smoking ban in public places, including shisha, and the city of Riyadh has already banned shisha cafes within city limits.